"Like all of us, he regarded this war as his own; like us, a few months ago he knew nothing about this country. He did not fight, any more than we did, for an outworn form of administration in Indo-china, for a few officials, bankers and racketeers, but for a form of thought and freedom. He abided by our laws. We don't know exactly what these laws are, but we are certain they exist and they pay no heed to the colour of a man's skin or to any sort of hierarchy. They were created out of toil, hardship and bloodshed. In Africa, in Italy, in France, we fought to liberate our country, which was simple. We have not got the same purpose out here, but we feel that our solitary combat may perhaps be the last battle to be fought for the preservation of the dignity of mankind. That is why we have no enemies, only opponents, and why we are fighting as much for them as for our allies or for ourselves." --- Jean Larteguy, Yellow Fever, 1962


We were the Rainbow Coalition, too. Pulled together by the Federal Government, held together by our common humanity and need for each other. Lots of White Boys, a good number of Blacks, a nearly equal number of Hispanics from Puerto Rico and Texas, it seemed. No Asian Americans - Asians were mostly on the other side in this war, if you’ll remember - and no Native American named “Chief”. Damn, don’t know how I missed that one. Probably the only thing standing in the way of our being featured in Newsweek as the All-American platoon.

There were no Race Relations in the field. We all needed each other too much to let skin color or cultural background put up walls between us. And then we found that in needing each other, and of necessity having to live and work together, we actually came to like each other. We appreciated our differences and our samenesses. I’m not saying we were reveling in our Ethnic Diversity, but I frequently overheard conversations between two or more people of different races, talking about how “our people” did things, and why, and what it meant. Not self-conscious conversations, not patronizing, but curiosity, and genuine interest.

I witnessed the most damaging racial incidents in the rear. Again, nothing dramatic, but many Blacks in the rear areas took the opportunity to wall themselves off from the rest of the Army. They lived in exclusively Black hootches, they hung out only with Blacks, they had their own Black Power regalia and elaborate daps to greet each other. It was sad to be in the PX or the Mess Hall with a mix of platoon members, and see a couple of Black REMFs come up to a Black platoon member and dap with him. The white platoon members would look away, and things would be chilly for a while afterwards. Their thought was, “What’s with this Black Power shit? You’re with us, man, you’re one of us. Why are you demonstrating solidarity with this REMF piece of shit? What’s he ever done for you?”

Some of the Black platoon members felt they had to run with the Black Power REMFs when they were in the rear. That on stand-down, they couldn’t associate with their blood brothers (white platoon members) anymore, but had to hang with the REMFs. Otherwise, they’d be accused of being an Oreo, and a racial sellout. “You’re kissing the Man’s ass, running with Whitey. Stand up and be proud of being Black!”

But I’m telling you, there was hurt in the white platoon members’ eyes when their Black comrades disassociated themselves. It was never held against them, relationships returned to normal when we went back to the field, but there was a gulf, and a lack of comprehension. “I’ve put my life in danger for you, Bro, and now this is how you treat me.” Painful, ugly shit, that people just didn’t deserve.

I’m not saying that we were one big happy family in the field, either. There were always one or two white guys who obviously hated Blacks, would work with them in the field but be detached, and then hang out with like-minded people in the rear. Plenty of fault on all sides. It’s just a shame for all of us that we couldn’t build on the positive experience of Race Relations in the field, rather than ending up with the negative divisiveness of the rear.

From Tears in the Rain (an as yet unpublished manuscript by Rick Whitaker


"He'd think, They want me to be a crazy Vietnam veteran, I'll be a crazy Vietnam veteran, but then he'd think, Why should I hurt myself when everyone's ready to do it for me." --- Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, Buffalo Afternoon, 1989